"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
October 6, 2014
The Heart and a Willing Mind
by Ami Chopine

The Lord requires of us a heart and a willing mind… – D&C 64:34.

Why can’t they just change? Get with the program? See the obvious?

I rather suspect that every human being (including, of course, myself) on this planet has asked themself that question — some for perhaps more righteous reasons than others.

And what about this question: Why can’t I just change?

The thing is, we’ve all spent years with our brains. The ones we got in the very beginning. There is no switching them out, or any part of them for that matter.

Our family experience, our social experience, our intellectual experience — everything we see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Every chemical we take into our body. Every small and simple thing, either good or evil.

It is all part of our experience. We approach all that happens to us with our vessels full of our past.

Our brain receives all our sensory input, it controls our body, it is the seat of our mortal memory, and the source of our emotion. And untamed, it takes us wherever the prevailing winds blow.

Our brain of flesh acts in a self preserving manner. Fight or flight, survival through dominance and survival through cowering submission, avoidance of scarcity, pursuit of reproduction. It will respond in ways to optimize its success.

It is uses emotions to control us. There are chemicals that cause us to fear, and ones that cause anger. Endorphins soothe our pain and reward us with happiness, even tiny drops of it, when we’ve done something our brain or body has interpreted as success.

Our emotions are not rational. They are instant reactions, and even the nearly instant reaction to suppress an initial emotion is often a thoughtless act, compelled by the desire to remain in social acceptance.

We are never without emotion or automatic reactions. Sometimes they powerful and take complete control of us — wiping any rational thought out. And sometimes they are merely a background murmur to the task we are working at.

Repetition reinforces neural connections — learning — over time, but emotions can cement them in an instant. And because of this, emotions can have more power over us than thoughtful reasoning.

“The natural man is an enemy to God.” What is this natural man? It is the one who never controls his emotions, but rather, lets his emotions control him.

The natural man is self-centered. He fears pain and insecurity, and so protects himself from it in many ways. He may seek to control the world around him through dishonest manipulation, accruing fortunes and possessions, raising himself above others, pursuing pleasure, and escaping through the satisfaction of addictions.

The scriptures say that Satan will rage in the hearts of men. (2 Nephi 28:20) His raging in our hearts is not a loud and obvious roaring. It may not feel like destruction, but it surely is.

It comes to us through media, the twisting of morals and truths, blasphemy both subtle and outrageous, even the light mindedness of most sitcoms that reward us with enjoyment while feeding us false standards of conduct. It is in the many false heroes and gods set before us and the commercials selling snake oil cures for the natural man’s fears.

It comes through social media and our scrabble to meet its mandate for popularity that invades the time we used to use for reading good books. Now we see pictures with simple and emotionally charged captions, and think we understand the world.

It is in the failure of schools.

And most devastatingly, in the failure of our families.

This animal brain of mine, which so often betrays me, in anger and pain and unworthy desire is the same one I use to serve the Lord. Even our prophets have a brain of flesh, and so did our Savior.

Jesus Christ is the beautiful exception to mortal failing. He is the Son of God. The ultimate prodigy, with no social or emotional deficits to accompany his supreme intellect. The perfect One. But even so, he knows it. He has experienced it, simply during his life here on earth and exquisitely in Gethsemane and on Calvary.

Sometimes, it seems, we have no control. Pain or anger may wash over us, a storm ravaging our souls, and there is nothing for us to do but to hold on to that light — that beckoning of our Savior to take shelter. For his house is built upon the pillars of creation and there is no storm that can overcome it.

And when we have come under his protection, been soothed and comforted by his infinite love, when we have been taught true wisdom and have received his strength that we may stand upon holy places, we see the world again.

We see that our brothers and sisters are wounded and fallen, and we want to reach out to them, to show them the shelter.

We speak rational words of truth. We point out to them why these things are wrong. How they harm us.

But they’re in the midst of their own emotions.

So many believe in fate or self determinism. They go where the whims of survival and instinct take them. They think that these desires are the will of the gods, which they have no control over.

In this state, how often will we be able to repeat the reasonable invitations of our God and be heard?

Perhaps not at all. So, there can be no reinforcement of precious truths by only speaking them.

But we can use emotion.

We gave our heart to the Savior, and he tells us to use it, to love our neighbor even as he has loved us.

And we love them through service. Through kindness even in the face of contempt and disbelief.

To do such a thing, we must learn to overcome our own emotions. We must ingrain upon our brains the sweet messages of God. We repeat these over and over to ourselves through prayer, scripture study, and temple service. We must make love our automatic reaction.

If we do this, and serve others, we will sooth their emotions. Not everyone, but perhaps some will ask the question — How? Why? Why do we act against the whims of our bodies?

And then, their minds are willing — if only just a little bit. We may never know that they wonder. It may take many other repetitions of love and patience by you or others. But this is how we win the great war — the one I believe never ended, but still continues. Only the battlefields and machineries of war have changed.

And now abide faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth. (1 Corinthians 13:13, 13:4-8)

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About Ami Chopine

Ami Chopine started out her mortal existence as a single cell. That cell divided into a collection of cells that cooperated enough to do such things as eat, crawl, walk and eventually read a lot and do grownuppy things.

When she was seven years old, hanging upside down on the monkey bars, she decided she wanted to be a scientist when she grew up. Even though she studied molecular biology at the University of Utah, that didn't quite come to pass. She became a writer instead. Still, her passion for science and honest inquiry has remained and married itself to her love of the Gospel. 

Ami is married to Vladimir and together they have four amazing children -- three in college and one in elementary school, where Ami is president of the Family School Organization. Vladimir is the better cook, but Ami is the better baker. She also knits, gardens, stares at clouds, and sings. She can only do three of these at the same time.

Besides two published computer graphics books and several magazine tutorials, she writes science fiction and has a couple of short stories published. You can find her blog at www.amichopine.com.

Ami was surprised to not be given a calling as some kind of teacher the last time she was called into the bishop's office. She currently serves as the Young Women Secretary -- somewhat challenging for the girl whose grandmother used to call the absentminded professor.

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